My baby grand piano has been in my house longer than I’ve been alive. When my husband and I bought our first home on New Year’s Eve six years ago, it was sitting roughly in the same place it is now: at the front of the living room.
The piano, made by Kranich and Bach, a now-defunct New York City company once popular for its diminutive line of grand pianos known as “Grandettes,” belonged to the previous owners of this house — a family, with three sons, that had lived here for half a century. The wife played it every day until her death, her husband told me. It had been her piano since childhood and it came with her when they got married. When I spoke with the husband, he was probably in his 90s, living in Florida, and had no more use for it. His sons, long grown, I assume had declined the opportunity to take it.
But I was smitten, moved by the legacy of this storied instrument and its place in the home where we would raise our children. When we saw the house, it was the only piece of furniture remaining. It looked so elegant standing there alone, and with nothing else in the room, didn’t seem that large to me. How could I toss something out that had been here for so many decades?
My husband, who actually plays musical instruments, unlike me, knew exactly how to turn it down. “It’s too big for the room,” he said.
But where my husband saw a hulking obstruction, I saw only romance. I imagined our children, a toddler and a kindergartner at the time, learning to play. I imagined a house full of music, with someone (not me, but someone) playing Christmas carols at the holidays.
And so, since I can be very persuasive, we kept it.
On moving day, two cranky workers dumped our blue sofa opposite the piano, in the only place where it would fit. I sat on my sofa and stared at the sturdy legs of what suddenly seemed like a shockingly tall object. We had no space left for a coffee table. Only room for two end tables, an accent chair and our television. My husband, of course, was right. It didn’t fit.
In the years that followed, I learned four truths about baby grand pianos.
1. “Baby” is a peculiar word choice for an object that measures nearly five feet long, five feet across at its widest, and stands over three feet tall.
2. Baby grands are a natural source of conversation among guests, who invariably will tell you to never part with yours. (This is particularly true of people who do not actually own baby grand pianos.)
3. Baby grand pianos make terrible coffee tables.
4. Baby grands make the most beautiful sound you can imagine, and when your son learns to play your wedding song on yours, you forget all your gripes and stop everything to listen.
Soon after we settled in, I learned a practical reason a family might part with a piano: because it’s worthless.
Kranich and Bach, it turned out, made finicky instruments that are difficult to maintain, despite their rich sound. And ours needed work. We spent about $400 repairing it, an investment the tuner said would buy us about five years of life on an instrument that, he said, was decent enough for a student.
We soon found a teacher, a young Australian pianist whose enthusiasm inspired my son to practice and play. He was hooked. Our house hummed with the clunky, awkward sounds of learning.
And he kept playing, switching teachers along the way, to a Georgian woman with a heavy Eastern European accent who has brought the hearty Russian composers into our home. Other instruments followed. A violin for our son. A guitar for our daughter. See! I was right. Plunk an instrument in the middle of the room and someone will pick it up.
But as the years ticked on, more keys broke. More repairs were required. Children grow, but rooms do not. And the tight space in the living room felt only tighter. The better my son got, the more he could hear the piano straining under his nimble fingers. What was once the object of his unwavering devotion became a source of frustration, as a pedal would break and keys would stick. We paid for more repairs, only for more keys to fail.
My husband and I began to imagine another life for our living room, one with enough furniture — and a coffee table! — to entertain. Perhaps, I suggested to my son, we could let the piano go and invest in something of a more manageable size. A console or studio piano — what I had always thought of as an upright piano, for example, could sit against the wall, leaving room for other furniture. Eventually, he too saw that maybe it was time to move on. “I want room to run around,” he said finally.
But objects in a home — even unlikely ones you might have inherited — are what give a home life, which is why you can become irrationally attached to items even when it no longer makes sense to keep them. Pianos, in particular, can manage to find allies in friends and family who inexplicably rise to their defense. Tell someone you want to part with a piano and you might as well have told them you were planning to toss a diamond in the trash.
Even potential buyers seemed alarmed by our decision. In early December, we posted the piano on Facebook Marketplace, offering it for free to anyone who would pay the cost of moving it. One person responded to the ad, saying simply, “You can’t be serious. Free?”
The first person to come look at it, a young jazz musician, told me I should keep it. I told him we needed space. He said his living room was even smaller than ours, and then, perhaps realizing the scale of his decision, didn’t take it.
I wondered if we were making a mistake, and felt guilty abandoning the piano to a stranger who couldn’t possibly appreciate its value the way I did. I took the listing down, pulled out the tape measure and set to work, searching for a way to make the piano fit better. My husband, willing to appease me one last time, patiently helped me try every possible arrangement. But no configuration made sense.
In a small home, rooms often have to serve more than one use. Our piano, I realized, was preventing us from using a central room in all the ways that we needed to use it.
“I wouldn’t give away a beautiful instrument if it belonged here,” my husband said. “But this one doesn’t.”
The next afternoon, he and I went to a furniture store and ordered a new sofa, armchairs and a coffee table (finally!). We will buy a used console or studio piano next.
Luckily for our Grandette, the items are back-ordered and will not arrive until early February, giving it a six-week reprieve. By then, we will have found it a new home, ideally some place where another student can eke more life out of it.
Hopefully, our piano will forgive us.
Published at Fri, 21 Dec 2018 14:00:03 +0000